You're in a tough spot, you want to declutter your home in the worst way, but you can't part with the stuff.
Why? Because everything holds sentimental value. Even when you start with a simple drawer, before long you're holding something your child made, and you become overwhelmed by emotions and have to stop.
Today we discuss why we attach to items, ways to work through intense feelings and clean up unwanted possessions.
How Does Someone Become Attached To An Object?
Emotional attachment happens in two ways.
You Attach Subconsciously
The first way you can attach to an item is subconscious. When you have a positive experience with anyone or an object, your brain automatically associates that with feel-good emotions and attaches meaning to the person or item.
For example, you bought a water bottle on an annual girls' weekend. When you made the purchase, you were having the time of your life, so your brain associated this inanimate object with good times.
Even though the logo has chipped off, you relive that moment from that weekend every time you use it.
You Attach Consciously
The second way you can attach to an article is by consciously assigning meaning.
For example, when my now-husband and I first got engaged, we couldn't afford real rings, so we used the ones in a quarter machine from a restaurant. We still have those rusted pieces of metal in our safe because that sentimental clutter is very valuable to us.
Later in the blog post, we'll go over how you can choose to attach a new meaning to items that you want to let go of as you organize your home.
What Is It Called When You're Connected Emotionally To An Object?
There isn't a unique name for this because everyone has some level of attachment to items in their lives; it's a spectrum. But for the sake of this post, we'll call it "emotionally attached." It's a sentimental value place on materialistic things.
It becomes problematic when you have a lot of stuff in your home and when you try making space and removing the excess but you become paralyzed at the thought and cannot get rid of anything.
Is It Normal To Attach Sentimental Meaning To Stuff?
It's entirely normal to have feelings about things in our life. People, in general, tend to love items that remind them of specific memories, or they become very fond of things over time, especially when it has sentimental value tied to loved ones that have passed.
How Come I Attach to Things But My Partner Does Not?
This is more common than we realize in relationships, and it boils down to how you each process emotions. You may be a more sentimental person than your partner, which means they don't feel much connection to things and can let them go more quickly.
This isn't to say that your partner doesn't care about the things, but it might be easier for them to recognize when possessions no longer bring them joy. This can be a great thing when it comes to decluttering - your partner can offer an outside perspective and help you let go of things more easily.
Is What I Emotionally Attach To Typical?
There's a wide gamete of things you can be attached to, here are three main categories people find themselves in.
Items From Family Members
It's prevalent to attach to items that pertain to family members. This can be members of your family of creation; think about your first Mother's Day card from your firstborn, or a necklace from your dad.
Items Representing Milestones
People often want to keep things close that represent significant moments like; graduation days, buying their first home, bringing home their baby, getting married and other major life events.
Items From Loved Ones That Have Passed
And that brings us to the last category of things people hold dear, which are things that are linked to our loved ones that have passed on.
My mom had a tough time getting rid of anything my dad touched for years after he died, which I understand. I have an outdated saw, but knowing that my father's hands touched it, I cannot part with it.
Why Do I Get Overly Attached To Inanimate Objects?
If you find yourself is this boat chances are you're an emotionally sensitive person who gets attached easily- you feel things very deeply. Hence, it's easier for you to become attached to objects because they have meaning or significance.
You might not even realize this is happening, but emotions start coming up once decluttering starts, and it becomes tricky.
As a coping mechanism you might lose sight of the task at hand and start doing something else all together. This is the frustrating stuck cycle. You start to clean out, you get overwhelmed, self-sooth with distraction, and repeat.
Why Do We Keep Sentimental Clutter?
Sentimental items make us feel good, and it can be a way to connect with our past. It might also provide you with memories that bring back feelings of happiness or calmness- whatever it is, these objects have meaning to you and therefore hold value.
These items help ease the pain we may be feeling from difficult experiences like a breakup, the death of a loved one, or maybe even just something in your past that you don't want to remember.
You might also be holding onto sentimental items because they remind you of where you started and how far you've come. You own them as proof that the struggles were worth it- these objects help ease this pain.
Why Is It Important To Clear Out Sentimental Stuff?
Visual overload raises our anxiety levels, steals our time, creates unnecessary strife in our relationships, and it takes up a lot of storage space.
That's why it's imperative to work through an unhealthy attachment to your belongings, an irrational fear when it comes to getting rid of certain items, and declutter your home for your well being.
How Do I Stop Being So Attached To My Stuff?
You have more control over materialistic things than you think. Remember in the beginning when I mentioned that emotional attachment occurs in two ways, automatically and consciously? Regardless of how the attachment forms you can change what an item means to you by telling your brain how to think.
What Is A Psychological Reframe?
A reframe when you look at a situation from a different perspective or give something a new meaning.
Let's say you have an attachment for a dinnerware set given to you by a distant relative. You've never used it, but the meaning you have given it makes you feel like you would be giving away part of your heritage if you donated it to goodwill.
Here's a reframe: It's been my honor to hold this collection for aunt Susie, and now I release it for another family to use. Rather than the dishes collecting dust in my attic, they will be a vessel of connection for another family. I know this is what Aunt Susie would want.
Call A Friend And Talk Through Your Feelings
The magic behind talk therapy is to have another bear witness to your story and that you connect the dots for yourself as you tell a story out loud.
Another way you can let go of a sentimental item is to call a family member and talk through your internal struggle.
Discussing why the item means so much to you will help you better understand yourself and how you can let it go.
Take a Picture Of The Item:
One of my favorite ways to preserve a keepsake yet clean up my living space is to take a photo of the item.
I'll use the example of my grandmother's chair. It was from her first dinning room set. Obviously a very special piece to our family that also took up a lot space. I took a photo of the chair and on the back of the picture I wrote about it's significance.
Documenting the stories helps me maintain attachment as I let go of sentimental things. I highly recommend you try this exercise for any item you feel obligated to keep but no longer brings you joy.
Sell Or Donate Your Sentimental Stash
Now you might be thinking; I'm speaking to the wrong audience here, but stay with me. Just like reframing, this can help you let go of an item that no longer serves you and declutter your home.
Think about it this way; you pay it forward if you donate an item. You're saying, I have used this as long as I needed it, and now I am letting it go, and someone else can use it.
When you sell a sentimental item, you can say, I have enjoyed this to the max, and now I am ready to make some extra cash for my family in order to declutter and have money to go out and make more memories.
See what I did there? I combined two of the tips, reframe and selling. You get to declutter, make money, and use that money to make more memories with your family. That is a lot of incentive to let your item go.
What If None Of These Suggestions Will Work?
If you feel like you've tried these suggestions and know they are not enough to break through your emotional attachment, I would reach out to a qualified mental health professional and work as a team.
Sometimes we have some old traumas that can keep us stuck in periods where we don't want to let things go. You can work through this with the right help.
Decluttering can be a very emotional process, especially for those who place great importance on things and do not be embarrassed to ask for assistance.
You Are Not Alone
Now that we have come to the end of our time together, I hope you found this post helpful and know that you are not alone. Everyone attaches emotionally to stuff.
There are ways to declutter your home even if you struggle to let go of stuff: 1) Reframe the sentimental meaning; 2) Call a friend and talk through your sentiments; 3) Take a photo and write the story on the back; 4) Sell or donate the sentimental items.
Try one today! It just might change your perspective forever and help free up some space too!